We Indians, never pass up the opportunity to make jaggery-based sweet treats in the cooler months. And the festival of Makar Sankranti gives all the more reason to make these ‘til-gulachi vadi’, as we call them in Marathi or ‘sesame-peanut flapjack’ as my English husband once described them as he popped one in his mouth (just before asking for a second). Well, as it happens ‘flapjack’ isn’t a bad term for these little squares of sesame and peanut goodness as they have a perfectly dense but crumbly texture with a delectable treacle-like flavour, one often found in cookies. Simply swap rolled oats with ground peanut and sesame seeds, soak them in jaggery et voilà – these deliciously nutritious Indian flapjacks are ready to empower you to take on the world!
Anyway, did I mention, these bite-sized peanut and sesame bars are traditionally made during the festive season of Makar Sankranti? I say ‘festive’ but really, they’re yet another excuse to reap the wholesome abundance of seasonal winter crops of India – fresh sugarcane jaggery being one from my home state of Maharashtra in India. Jaggery not only boosts immunity but helps keep the body warm in winter.
But the festival of Makar Sankranti is about more than just changing seasons and a celebration of winter produce. It is also about people – people like you and me. For the uninitiated, Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival marking the end of the winter growing season. It is dedicated to Lord Surya (the sun god). After Makar Sankranti, the sun starts to move back towards the northern hemisphere. Hindus believe this period to be auspicious, and it is known as Uttarayana or winter solstice. It marks the beginning of the harvest season when people worship new crops and share them with great pride and much revelry.
Notice I said ‘people’ – well yes, this festival truly connects people through the sharing of winter harvest and through the enchanted words – ‘tilgul ghya ani goad goad bola’ which literally translated to English means ‘take this sesame-jaggery tilgul, and talk sweetly’. Sounds quite pretentious and maybe even suspicious, doesn’t it?
Well, if the term conjures up visions of devious people trying to lure you into something ill-advised, worry not!
‘Sweet-talk’ in this context just means goodwill, benevolence and affection. At least, it does to me and I hope that’s true of others. You can make all the sweet-talk you like so long as it’s reflected in gentle acts of kindness and empathy. So it’s a time when we share sweets with friends and neighbours and make a pledge to talk ‘sweetly’ to each other over the coming year and live in harmony.
Tilgulachi Vadi / Sesame Peanut FlapjacksCourse: Dessert, SnacksCuisine: Maharashtrian, IndianDifficulty: Easy
175g (1 cup) whole peanuts (roasted, then peeled)
150g (1 cup) whole sesame seeds (unhulled preferred)
330g (2 cups) grated jaggery
8-12 green cardamom pods
2 tsp milk
2 tsp ghee
2 tsp dry coconut (grated)
a pinch of salt (optional)
Ghee or a greaseproof paper to set the mixture on
- Line a deep plate or a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Alternatively, rub some ghee on the plate or tray and set aside. Also, apply ghee to the back of a steel bowl or tumbler
- Lightly toast the sesame seeds over a low flame, stirring continuously for up to 2 minutes. Switch off the flame once they start to splutter. Transfer to a plate and leave them to cool.
- Toast the whole cardamom pods on a flat pan or tawa over a medium flame, ensuring they don’t go brown. This should take no more than a minute. Repeat with the grated dry coconut.
- In a pestle and mortar, pound the seeds from the toasted cardamom pods to make cardamom powder.
- Coarsely grind the peanuts and toasted sesame seeds separately.
- Mix the ground peanuts, sesame seeds, cardamom and salt together.
- In a heavy-bottomed wide pan or a karahi over a medium flame, add the ghee followed by the jaggery and milk. Once the jaggery has fully melted, switch off the flame.
- Tip in the peanut and sesame mixture immediately and mix everything together.
- Transfer to the greased plate or grease-proof-paper-lined baking tray and spread evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle the toasted coconut and press the warm mixture down with the help of the ghee coated steel bowl or tumbler. Continue patting until the mixture spreads evenly.
- Using a knife, make deep evenly spaced vertical incisions onto the mixture whilst it’s still warm. Then make horizontal incisions to form bite-sized squares.
- By now the mixture should’ve cooled down. If not, allow it to cool. Then remove a bite-sized square, known as a ‘vadi’, and gobble it down. Transfer to an airtight container for longer shelf life and if you also wish to save some for later to share with your family and friends. The vadis keep well in the fridge but chances are they’ll be gone within a week.
- 1. Remember to grease the plates/trays and steel bowl and keep them ready, before heating the jaggery as once the ‘tilgul vadi’ mixture is prepared it needs to be set whilst hot so steps 8,9 and10 need to be done quickly.
- 2. The bottom of the steel bowl of the tumbler is greased so that the hot-mixture won’t stick to it when you use it to spread the mixture. It may also be too hot to spread by hand.
- 3. The incisions need to be made whilst the mixture is still warm. If you let the mixture cool first you won’t get neat square-shaped vadis.
- 4. Optional steps and ingredients:
a. Adding salt – it helps balance the sweetness of jaggery without making the vadi overly sweet
b. Toasting the cardamom pods – it makes shelling the seeds easier as well as making them more fragrant.
c. I also like to add grated nutmeg to the peanut-jaggery mixture.
- 5. Storage and shelf life: The vadis keep well for 7-14 days in an airtight container at room temperature and for up to a month when refrigerated.